Importance of Reinforcement in Teaching and Learning


Reinforcement is defined as anything that increases the probability of occurrence of a response. It is a process whereby a particular response is maintained or strengthened by a stimulus contingent upon the response.

According to Ezeani (2000), reinforcement increases the probability of the responses occurring again. A teacher, for instance, can influence the behavior of a student by reinforcing or rewarding any elements in the student’s behavior that the learner wishes to strengthen.

For an even to be regarded as reinforcement, there has to be a desirable response that is followed by a desirable stimulus (e.g. reward) to ensure that the earlier response is maintained or repeated.

Skinner’s and Pavlov’s experiments


Skinner and other psychologists have shown that when an animal makes any response involving some sort of behavior and if the behavior is rewarded in some way, the animal tends to repeat it.

Similarly, in Pavlov’s classical conditioning, the reinforcement is the stimulus that is the unconditional stimulus (US), food, which elicited the unconditional response (US), and salivation.

In Skinner’s operant conditioning, reinforcement is contingent upon the occurrence of the response.

The reward conditions the animal to behave in a certain way. The same principle applies to students in the teaching-learning process.

Reinforcement, therefore, implies the judicious use of desirable stimulus to improve the quality of or sustain a response or behavior.

This stimulus could be in form of gifts, praises, commendations, clapping, or words such as “very good”, and “good” from the teachers.

Motivational reinforcement is crucial to the teaching-learning process. Hence, teachers and management should try to reinforce the behaviors that are desirable to their students.

Reinforcement Application

An effective application of reinforcement also ensures the mastery of the subject matter. Effective use of motivational reinforcement by the teacher results in an increased rate of learning the subject by learners.

It can also be used as a classroom control device during teaching the subjects by the teacher. There are also processes and the rationale for motivating or reinforcing learners in your subjects as described by Sadrock (2007).

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The points discussed below can be applied to any subject. It is not limited to the English Language the author uses in this article.

Motivational reinforcement helps learners pay more attention in the classroom.

Whenever the teacher is in front of the class teaching any topic or a subject, he or she can try to promise gifts or rewards that will make students pay attention in the class as much as possible.

For example in a classroom, a teacher who is teaching a difficult or boring topic of a subject can reinforce or motivate students by promising rewards at the beginning of the lesson so that the boring or difficult topic or class can be made lively and interesting to the learners.

The teacher may say from the beginning that if any student can answer the questions he or she will ask at the end of the lesson, he or she will give such a student the prize of N2000 or $50.

What the teacher will discover after the promise is the full attention and concentration of the learners on the lesson because everyone wants to win a prize. As a result, teaching-learning will be enhanced.

Motivational reinforcement leads to self-discovery and independent inquiry.

The use of motivation can lead to self-discovery and independent inquiry. If the lesson is reinforced, students will discover certain rules and applications themselves.

They may discover the weaknesses and errors without being told that there are errors in the rigors of teaching presentations.

They will be curious about how certain sentences are constructed or how certain formulas are applied to solve mathematics and science topics.

For example, when the teacher enters the classroom to teach the English Language, he or she may deliberately speak “bad English” such as *I wented to Lagos* or *I have go home*.

The students hearing these bad sentences will sense that something is wrong with the sentences. They can discover themselves without being told that the sentences are not well-formed. We can identify the students that can correctly reconstruct the sentences.

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Also, a mathematics teacher may intentionally write a simple 2+3=7 while the students may discover the error in the answer the teacher gave and provide the correct answer. As a result, using this technique will make learning improve.

Motivational reinforcement stimulates students to higher achievements.

In the teaching of subjects, there will be many achievements if a teacher can reinforce/stimulate students. I am certain that a teacher who uses appropriate teaching methods/instructional materials will greatly achieve in the subjects he or she teaches.

For example, An English Language teacher who wants to teach “a preposition” can stimulate students by using a demonstration method to achieve his or her learning objectives.

The teacher will write the examples of the prepositions he or she wants to teach: “on, under, inside, beside” on the board and carry a desk in front of the class to demonstrate the teaching of those examples of prepositions.

In the progression of the lesson, the teacher will take a book and place it on the desk and say “the book is on the desk.” The teacher will underline the preposition on in the sentence.

The teacher will also place the book under the desk and say “the book is under the desk.” The teacher will underline the preposition under in the sentence.

Again, the teacher will open the desk and place the book in it and say “the book is inside the desk.” The teacher will also underline the preposition inside in the sentence.

The other teachers in other subject areas can adopt the method to teach each topic. As a result, learning objectives will be achieved.

Motivational reinforcement helps to achieve a cordial relationship between teachers and learners.

Motivational reinforcement helps to achieve cordial relationships between teachers and students, especially students who find learning boring and confusing.

As a teacher in any subject area, you must try to apply motivational techniques that will sustain the interest of learners in your subject area.

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A good teacher must regularly and occasionally use teacher-learner relationships such as clapping, commendation, humor, good of you, very good, brilliant answer, etc.

For example, when a teacher asks a question and a student answers it very correctly, the teacher must ask the students to clap for the student to serve as motivation.

Even if the student does answer the question satisfactorily, the teacher must not discourage the student, instead, he must correct and encourage him or her by saying “You tried; you can still perform better next time”.

A good teacher who wants to show a relationship must not be severely harsh. The students will scare him or her. That attitude will instill fear in students.

If a teacher is friendly and accommodating, the students will always show up in his or her lesson. As a result, learning objectives will be enhanced and achieved.

More learning outcomes will be achieved through motivational reinforcement.

When a teacher always uses motivational reinforcement techniques, more learning outcomes will be achieved.

A teacher must try as much as possible to use evaluative techniques during and after the lesson ( both formative and summative). This will assure him or her whether the objectives of the lesson are achieved or not.

The learners that are reinforced often in the classroom will always be eager to learn more. By doing these, the teacher will discover that learning outcomes have been achieved after the lesson has been evaluated at the end of the lesson. Failure to do this, in the stated objectives cannot achieved.

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